Thursday, 20 March 2008

Visa Trip

When I arrived here I entered on a standard 30 day tourist visa purchased on entry which is not extendible – on Monday night around nine thirty lil' bro' informed me that I would be going to Singapore on Tuesday to get it replaced with a 60 day extendible one. The bad news was that I would have to leave the house at 03:30 to catch the flight and that I would need a passport photo to go with the visa application form.

On arrival I eventually get through to the local agent and am told to tell the taxi to head for the Forum Mall by the Hilton Hotel and then to proceed to the nearest McDonalds from there. Yer man's fixer was processing a red haired lass's details when I got there and I said that I needed photos done, got directed to a mall across the street where I was told that there was a booth on the 2nd floor.

Culture difference stepped in here as I went up 2 floors and scoured thoroughly with no success – resisted the entreaties of a young lass to have a massage as I passed the 1st floor on the way up and down. Asked a security guard and was told it was on the 1st floor so I was able to get that part done and returned to the fixer who had a pile of 10 or so passports to get processed at the Indonesian embassy.

Even though this had been set up through lil' bro's company it is still a wee bit daunting to hand over your passport to a stranger in a foreign land with only the simple instruction of return in 4 and a half hours to get it back. Had noticed an Irish Theme bar across the road so headed there for some lunch and treated myself to 2 pints of extra cold draught Guinness as a belated St Patrick's day celebration.

Ambled around town window shopping and people watching until there was an hour or so before the rendezvous when I got a large coffee in a place just down the road from McDonalds. Notice a pensive looking red haired lass sitting outside and thought that she might be the one from this morning but was not sure as I had not been paying her that much attention at the time.

Guy was a little over 15 mins late getting back and I noticed that a couple of his customers were getting a little twitchy while waiting - one them being the red haired lass from earlier. Much relief and happy faces all around when he appeared with processed passports and I got a cab back to the airport for the return journey – all in all a fun day out.

The really good news was that lil bro's Kiwi buddy was not in town or I would never have made it out of the Irish bar in a fit state to cross the road never mind get back to the airport, based on our encounters in the past.

Home Security

SIL takes the security of her family and home very seriously, all of the windows have decorative metal bars on the inside as do the doors; not that the house is in a bad area in fact the reverse is true it is on a small development of pretty expensive properties.

However, that could prove an attraction for thieves (there are people living in great poverty within 2 km from the house and for some the temptation could prove to be too strong) so everything gets locked down at night and the two outdoor dogs provide a very effective alarm system if the house is approached by strangers.

Then one day last week I am sitting in front of the laptop when all the power goes off – ah, blackout I say to myself. Had read at the weekend that these might occur in Java and Bali as one of the coal fired power stations on Java had not been able to take on any supplies due to heavy seas.

Turned out not to be the case, SIL had read of people posing as electricity meter readers and gaining access to properties that way before robbing them. She had directed her local handymen to move their meter from the inside and place it on the outside of the property and thereby remove one more potential weak point.

Would have been nice if she had forewarned me but no damage was done and the power came back on a couple of hours later.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Holiday Weekend

Just finished a three day weekend yesterday, Friday was Nyepi or the Hindu Day of Silence on Bali and marks the start of a New Year in their calendar – with the exception of the hotels the whole island is closed for the day, there is no traffic pedestrian or motorised and even the beaches are closed.

“Nyepi is meant to be a day of self introspection to decide on values, eg humanity, love, patience, kindness, etc., that should kept forever. Balinese Hindus have many kind of celebrations (some sacred days) but Nyepi is, perhaps the most important of the island's religious days and the prohibitions are taken seriously, particularly in villages outside of Bali's southern tourist belt."

Although the religious observance is restricted to Bali, Friday was a national holiday across all of the Indonesian archipelago – unless you are an oilman who gets a request for a tender dropped in your lap on Thursday which has to be with the customer by Sunday. So it was 21:00 on Friday before lil' bro' returned from the office and we could head out to a BBQ a few houses down.

Did not return home until some time after 02:00 after the festivities had wound down with an extended karaoke session – an unusual mixture of pop/rock songs interspersed with Indonesian pop songs.

Saturday afternoon was BBQ time at lil' bro's house which started in the afternoon but was wrapped up by 19:00. Just as well really as we had foolishly agreed to play golf at 08:00 the next morning which meant leaving the house by 06:30. In the end I was really glad that we played as I was in much much better form than the last time and actually outscored lil' bro' which has not happened in a long time.

Saw more sun in that 3 hours than in the previous two weeks – we stopped after nine holes as we had another BBQ to attend at 15:00 and had to return to the house to shower and change and collect SIL and a driver before returning to Jakarta.

All in all am pretty glad that the weekend came to an end as my liver was starting to need a rest.

Friday, 7 March 2008


Jakarta is a very busy city traffic wise, it has a network of toll roads (4 or 6 lane carriageways) where the flow is marginally easier except at peak times; some of them have hard shoulders (which are pretty rough and ready) and these are used as an extra overtaking lane if traffic is heavy.

In and around the middle of the city on the other routes through the city centre and business districts it is a dog eat dog world – lane discipline is an optional extra class that not many take in driving school.

Two lane roads are in reality four lane roads as a constant stream of small motorcycles race along at the edges until their passage is blocked by a street vendor's handcart; their only option at this point is to wait for a halt in the flow and then edge out around the nearest car to make progress down the middle.

You can pull up at the head of the line on a red light and by the time it turns green you will find 100 to 200 motorcycles in front of you – usually 2 up but I have seen families of four travelling on 50cc mopeds.

Guys who make a living at busy T junctions on the back roads in the city stepping out to stop oncoming traffic armed only with a whistle and a shirt that looks vaguely official; once the driver has made it half way across the
road the “traffic cop” will receive a small coin worth around 5p for risking his neck.

They also work at bars and restaurants on busy streets where you could wait for days to get into the traffic flow without some external intervention.

Amidst all this chaos the really strange question is why do you seldom see accidents – it is as if a master choreographer is pulling all the strings and somehow collisions rarely occur.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Multiple Pop Ups?

One of my readers complained that every time they tried to access my blog last week they were infested with multiple pop up windows and they wondered if my site was being hacked.

Tried it on dial up and it seemed OK to me, but then I use Firefox with the wonderful NoScript add on. Then tried it with IE7 on the LAN connection and again no pop ups.

Geek Aside. When you use NoScript the first time that you visit a site it stops all scripts from running unless you allow them, giving you the choice of enabling that site permanently or temporarily. This lets you see exactly what is going on and makes browsing more secure – the only slightly dodgy thing that I could see trying to run on mine is a tracking site called which originates out of SiteMeter so I may well be switching to another stats counter sometime in the near future.

So the question is has anyone else seen multiple pop ups here or is it only an Internet Explorer 6 phenomenon? Answers on a postcard please.

Tropical Downpour

This morning the sun made an appearance in the sky and was visible from the balcony outside lil bro's office where I am sitting starting this post. The balcony is about 12'x12' and I know now that it faces North towards Jakarta, this means that the volcano which has yet to reveal itself from beneath the cloud cover lies to the South of our location. The sun did not last long and by lunchtime clouds filled the sky and were an ominous dark grey/black in colour.

As we left the house this afternoon the heavens opened and for five minutes it felt like we were driving through the bottom of Niagara Falls. The rain eased off after that to merely heavy but with much better visibility (IE we could see where we were going) and we had the joy of watching some lightening strikes in the distance as we headed up the road to collect the kids from school.

On the way back me and the kids got dropped off at an internet cafe 5 mins drive from the house so that they could play games and I could get something faster than dial up to make a few posts and do some long neglected blog rounds.

Pretty good deal on the price here – less than £1 for two hours access, connection seems to be running at 34 Mbps which is respectable. Spoke too soon after 10 mins I lost Internet access through the wireless and it took another 50 mins to get a 100 Mbps LAN connection working – did not help that the first guy did not have any English but even at the end of ot we were not sure how we fixed it.

Finally Some Internet Speed – Of a Sort

Written on Monday 25th – but not posted due to the number of Windows Updates that I had to download and install which stopped me doing much else on the day.

So here I am sitting in a wi-fi hotspot in a mall in Jakarta with my niece and nephew sipping on a coffee and enjoying watching pages load without time outs – unlike the dial up connection which is all that is available from lil bro's house.

Having said that the connection is “latest wireless technology 802.11b – connect at blazing speeds of up to 22Mbps” - obviously they do not have an Advertising Standards Authority over here.

Arrived safely on Friday after two pretty comfortable flights apart from the crying of two howling infants on leg 1 – am now convinced that children under five should only be allowed on board in first class so that the rest of us can get some sleep.

Played golf on Saturday for the first time in 18 months and it was very ugly – it did not help that the course we were playing had been used for the Indonesian Open the week before and the layout was exactly the same and we played it from the same tees as they had used. Still, enough with the excuses all I will say is that I enjoyed the company and can console myself with the thought that it can only get better from this nadir.

In the meantime here are a couple of pictures of the guest suite in lil bro's house that I am occupying for the duration – this has got more floor space than all of my downstairs back home; and I could lose my upstairs rooms in the cavernous bathroom.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Thoughts from Abu Dhabi

It is 25 years since I spent a year working in Kuwait, but arriving here tonight brought back torrents of memories of my time there. Arab men striding through the terminal resplendent in their shimmering white robes topped with a white or red chequered headdress, followed at a respectful distance by their wives clad head to toe in black.

Hordes of migrant workers from other muslim states occupying most available floor space armed with what would count as hold luggage in the West. Sat drinking a cold Heineken watching a plane from Damascus disgorge it's passengers, mainly women all wearing hijabs but these and their clothes were a riot of all the colours of the rainbow.

It reminded me that I had stepped into a culture very alien to that which I am accustomed, neither better nor worse just very different and also very ancient.

It is far too easy in these troubled times to condemn that which we do not understand and yet I remember from my time living there that the people were kind and generous and wanted the same for their kids as any westerner would.

Shopping was an entertainment, remember buying my acoustic guitar there (a hand made Martin clone) from a small musical shop, it took over three quarters of an hour and involved cups of sweet Turkish coffee and good natured haggling over the price. Back home this would have infuriated me but I enjoyed playing the dance and feeling part of the culture for a brief time before parting with handshakes and smiles.

The world would be a far better place if there was more understanding of different cultures and less finger pointing and demanding that we all conform to some global homogeneity.

Then discovered the premier lounge where $22 US (still has a global reach the US dollar, all prices were marked in local currency or dollars) got me four hours of comfortable seating, free booze, soft drinks, snacks and BBC news on a large widescreen plus internet access and smoking to boot – it made for a very pleasant stay before it was time to catch the next flight.